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Peter King: Obama's Silence Helped NSA Opponents

By Sandy Fitzgerald   |   Sunday, 11 Aug 2013 02:13 PM

Republican Rep. Peter King of New York criticized President Barack Obama for mostly staying silent about the National Security Agency's surveillance program, while the opponents of the program have gotten their message out through the media.

"Basically Obama's been silent for the past two months," said King. "He allowed the Edward Snowdens and others in the world to dominate the media."

King, appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation," said that Obama had an obligation as commander in chief to "aggressively and effectively defend his program and he really didn't do it."

King also said Obama should have taken the opportunity, during the press conference, to denounce Snowden. "He is not a patriot," said King. "He's a person indicted for espionage."

Former NSA director Michael Hayden, also appearing on "Face the Nation," told host Bob Schieffer, "We used to have a word for somebody who stole our secrets, who got the job to steal our secrets and then moved with those secrets to a foreign country, and they weren't called a whistleblower. He's a defector."

There are still some steps the nation needs to take to make Americans feel more comfortable with the NSA's programs, which Hayden, King, along with Maryland Democratic Rep. Charles "Dutch Ruppersberger III, who also appeared on the Sunday talk show, agree must continue.

"To me, the most telling thing [Obama] said was perhaps something he didn't quite say," Hayden said, referring to the president's Friday press conference. "He didn't suggest he was going to operationally change this program. There's no suggestion that what he was doing and what President Bush was doing before him with regard to these programs was anything other than lawful, effective, and appropriate."

Hayden said it's "heartening" to have the president say the NSA's oversight was quite good, and there were no abuses under him or his predecessor.

"But he does have this issue of confidence, this issue of transparency," said Hayden. "So the president is trying to take some steps to make the American people more comfortable about what it is we're doing ... but some steps to make Americans more comfortable will actually make Americans less safe."

Hayden said that the country won't be stopping the NSA surveillance program, no matter how much people protest.

"Folks from the so-called left … don't want a little more transparency with regard to the metadata program," said Hayden. "They want the program stopped. I don't think it will be."

Hayden also said the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, which must sign off before wiretaps can be put on an American's account, are important and should continue.

Ruppersberger agreed that Snowden is not a patriot.

"When you work for the intelligence community, you take an oath not to violate classified information," he said. "This individual said he went in for the purpose of getting information. He turned his back on his country. Where did he go once he got this information? He went to China and then he went to Russia. That speaks for itself."

But he agreed that the NSA programs need reforms.

"We in politics have to deal with perception, not just reality," said the Maryland lawmaker. "We need to do better in educating our public so they are not fearful that we, the government, are violating their privacy."

The debate about the National Security Agency's surveillance programs was coming with or without leaker Snowden's revelations, said Hayden, former CIA director and a retired Air Force general.

"Clearly the debate was coming," said Hayden. "He didn't inform it. He made it more emotional. I'll give you an example. You and I witnessed (Hurricane) Katrina. The levees around Lake Pontchartrain are the strongest they've been in a century, but Katrina was still a bad thing, and that's how I view Mr. Snowden."

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